Archive for the ‘Celtic’ Category

It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

October 24, 2014

River of LifeImage: River of Life © Jan Richardson

A Reading for All Saints Day: Revelation 7.9-17

The Lamb…will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
– Revelation 7.17

For many years, I have loved the days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. This trinity of days from October 31-November 2 is a sacred space in the turning of the year—what Celtic folk have long called a thin place, where past, present, and future intertwine, and the veil between worlds becomes permeable. I learned long ago that it’s important to pay attention to what happens in these days. Mostly what happens is that the days offer a window onto my life—a perspective that, however subtly, shifts how I see my path. But sometimes these days offer a doorway, a new threshold that changes everything.

Gary and I began dating on Halloween, the eve of All Saints. As our life together unfolded, the sense of crossing a sacred threshold with him, of walking together through a door of mystery, wonder, and love, never disappeared.

It seems beyond belief that this year, when our church celebrates All Saints Day, Gary’s name will be among those read in the litany of remembrance; that, as for each of the beloved ones who have died in the past year, a bell will sound for my husband, who has crossed a threshold that is beyond my reach. Yet the Feast of All Saints assures us that even here, in the depth of our grief and loss, there is a doorway, a place where the worlds touch.

As I approach this first All Saints Day since Gary’s death, I am pressing my ear to that door. In the depth of my sorrow, I am learning that Gary and I still have thresholds to cross; that mystery and wonder abide, drawing us more and more deeply into the love that has little regard for matters such as death and time.

This is a poem that came in the early days of grieving, as I was first beginning to reckon with Gary’s dying and with the love that has kept making itself known. I offer it to you as an All Saints gift, a talisman to hold onto as you remember your own beloved ones. May our love be more fierce than our grief, more enduring than our tears. Blessings.

It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

It is hard
being wedded
to the dead;
they make different claims,
offer comforts
that do not feel comfortable
at the first.

They do not let you
remain numb.
Neither do they allow you
to languish forever
in your grief.

They will safeguard
your sorrow
but will not permit
that it should become
your new country,
your home.

They knew you first
in joy,
in delight,
and though they will be patient
when you travel
by other roads,
it is here
that they will wait
for you,
here they can best
be found

where the river runs deep
with gladness,
the water over each stone
singing your
unforgotten name.

– Jan Richardson

For a previous reflection on All Saints, click the image or title below.

A Gathering of Spirits
For Those Who Walked With Us

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that draws you into Advent without feeling like it’s just one more thing to add to your schedule? I would love for you to join us for this all-new online retreat that easily fits into the rhythm of your days. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey toward Christmas from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “River of Life,” please visit this page at (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Epiphany 5: Healing and Feasting

January 29, 2012

The Domestic God © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 5, Year B: Mark 1.29-39

In a parallel universe, where there are thirty hours in a day, perhaps my parallel self has completed a new reflection and artwork for this week. In this universe, however, with its mere twenty-four-hour days, I’ve been devoting my studio hours to preparing some Lenten fare to accompany you during the soon-arriving season. I am already, as ever, surprised by where the Lenten texts are taking me, and I look forward to sharing the path through the coming season with you.

My Lenten immersion, along with preparing for some upcoming events, has left me sans new reflection. But I do have a previous reflection on this passage; please visit it here:

The Domestic God

I especially want to recommend Mary Ann Tolbert’s insights into this gospel passage, which have influenced my thinking about this text and which I briefly quote in the reflection.

This week offers two feast days that are good companions to the gospel reading. February 1 brings us the Feast of Saint Brigid, the beloved Celtic saint who was a light for the early church in Ireland and who worked many miracles of healing. February 2 is Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation or the Feast of the Purification of Mary. For reflections on these days, which are among my favorites of the year, click on the images or titles below.

Provision and Plenitude: Feast of Saint Brigid
(New at my Sanctuary of Women blog)

Feast of the Presentation/Candlemas

Wishing you many blessings and a festive week!

P.S. Speaking of upcoming events, I invite you to visit my calendar on my main website: see Calendar. Be sure to check out the Liturgical Arts Week that Gary and I will be involved with at the Grünewald Guild this summer. I’ll be the keynote speaker, and Gary and I will teach a class especially designed for preachers, worship leaders, liturgical artists, and anyone else who would like to dive into the texts for the Advent season. We’d love to have you join us at the wondrous Guild!

[To use the “Domestic God” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

The Way of Welcome

June 20, 2011

A Place for the Prophet © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 8/Ordinary 13/Pentecost +2 (June 26): Matthew 10.40-42

In the neighborhood where I used to live, there was a family a few doors down from me who moved in when their daughter was about two. I would often run into Kyla and her mother when I was out for a walk, meeting them as they slowly strolled, their ginger cat ambling behind. Young Kyla would always greet me as if I were the greatest person in the world and she could hardly believe her astounding good fortune that I had turned up. I saw her do this with other folks, too, so I knew she didn’t reserve her joy just for me. I didn’t mind; I loved receiving her lavish welcome that would be just as enthusiastic the next time around.

I’ve found myself thinking about Kyla as I have pondered Jesus’ words about welcoming in the gospel reading for this Sunday. And as I ponder, I’m wondering what it might look like to fling my arms a little wider toward the world. As I encounter folks in the rhythm of my days, am I leaving anyone with the impression that I think they’re the greatest person on the earth and that I can hardly believe my good fortune that they have turned up?

Jesus’ words remind us that he calls us to be hospitable people not because it’s a nice thing to do—and Christianity depends, after all, on far more than mere niceness—but because it is a holy and whole-making act; it is a sacred art. Welcoming another is a fundamental gesture that encompasses not only the other person but also the God in whose image they were formed and fashioned and whom—though we may sometimes be at pains to perceive it—they somehow reveal in their being.

As I write this, I’m winging my way toward Minnesota for my annual retreat with folks from Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery. A community that draws from both Methodist and Benedictine traditions, our monastery is named for a vibrant and much-loved leader of the early church in Ireland. Like my friend Kyla, Saint Brigid carried her hospitality with her from the time she was a young girl. Extravagant and precocious in her generosity to the point of giving some of her parents’ possessions away (“holy thieving,” as one writer has described it), Brigid grew up to become a woman renowned for the way she welcomed others and sought to restore them to the wholeness that God desired for them. “Every guest is Christ,” Brigid said.

In the coming days of our retreat, I look forward to easing into the welcome that I will find among the community that bears Saint Brigid’s name. In the conversation, in the quiet, in the learning and praying and resting, I will be carrying questions about how Christ might be calling me to extend a welcome to others. How about you? How wide is your welcome these days? Are you finding places of hospitality and rest that help you know what it’s like to receive this gift that lies at the heart of our tradition? How does this help you discern the kind of welcome and holy hospitality that God is calling you to lavish upon others?

Welcoming Blessing

If you say
this blessing
out loud,
it may perhaps
be easier to imagine
how the shape
of this blessing
is really a circle,

easier to see
how these words
hold themselves
like the lip
of the cup,
like the curve
of the bowl,
like the rim
of the plate;
how they compose
like the O of arms
that enclose you
in welcome.

You can try
to leave this blessing,
but it has a habit
of spiraling back

not as if to stalk
or to snare you—
it’s just that
this blessing
has taken a shine
to you

and so it keeps
turning and returning,
following its arc
about you,
spinning itself
toward you

for the simple joy
of seeing your face,
for the unaccountable luck
that you have come
its way.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, visit A Place for the Prophet. And for more about Saint Brigid, see my post Golden, Sparkling Flame: Feast of St. Brigid over at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

[To use the “A Place for the Prophet” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Holy Thursday: Take a Blessing

April 18, 2011

Holy Thursday II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Holy/Maundy Thursday  (April 21): John 13.1-17, 31b-35

The story is told of St. Brigid, the beloved Celtic saint and leader of the early church in Ireland, that a man with leprosy came to her one day. Knowing the saint’s reputation for hospitality, the man says to Brigid, “For God’s sake, Brigid, give me a cow.” Brigid’s response suggests this man may have made a habit of such requests; though normally lavish with her generosity, Brigid tells the man to leave her alone. He persists.

Brigid asks the man how it might be if they prayed that God would heal him of his leprosy. “No,” the man tells her, “I get more this way than if I were clean.” Brigid, in her turn, persists with him, urging him to “take a blessing and be cleansed.” The man acknowledges he is indeed in much pain; he gives in and accepts the blessing and the gift of healing it brings. So great is his gratitude to Brigid—and to God—that he vows his devotion to Brigid and pledges to be her servant and woodman.

Sometimes it can be daunting to receive a blessing. As this man with leprosy recognized, a blessing requires something of us. It does not leave us unchanged. A blessing offers us a glimpse of the wholeness that God desires for us and for the world, and it beckons us to move in the direction of this wholeness. It calls us to let go of what hinders us, to cease clinging to the habits and ways of being that may have become comfortable but that keep us less than whole.

This can take some work.

Part of the challenge involved with a blessing is that receiving it actually places us for a time in the position of doing no work—of simply allowing it to come. For those who are accustomed to constantly doing and giving and serving, being asked to stop and receive can cause great discomfort. To receive a blessing, we have to give up some of our control. We cannot direct how the blessing will come, and we cannot define where the blessing will take us. We have to let it do its own work in us, beyond our ability to chart its course.

On the night that Jesus takes up his basin and towel and begins to wash the feet of his disciples, Simon Peter learns how difficult and how wondrous it can be to “take a blessing,” as Brigid put it. He resists, then allows himself to receive, the grace of it dripping from his toes.

This blessing will indeed require something of Simon Peter and of his fellow disciples. When Jesus has finished the washing, put on his robe, put away his towel and bowl, he turns to them and says, “Do you know what I have done to you?…If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus continues, “servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

You are blessed if you do them.

A blessing is not finished until we let it do its work within us and then pass it along, an offering grounded in the love that Jesus goes on to speak of this night. Yet we cannot do this—as the disciples could not do this—until we first allow ourselves to simply receive the blessing as it is offered: as gift, as promise, as sign of a world made whole.

During this Holy Week, I am offering a series of blessings for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. As we move through these days, may these blessings come as gift, as grace. In this week, may you take a blessing, and become one in turn.

Blessing for Holy Thursday

As if you could
stop this blessing
from washing
over you.

As if you could
turn it back,
could return it
from your body
to the bowl,
from the bowl
to the pitcher,
from the pitcher
to the hand
that set this blessing
on its way.

As if you could
change the course
by which this blessing

As if you could
control how it
pours over you,

yet startling
in the way
it matches the need
you did not know
you had.

As if you could
become undrenched.

As if you could
resist gathering it up
in your two hands
and letting your body
follow the arc
this blessing makes.

P.S. For an earlier reflection for Holy Thursday, visit Holy Thursday: Feet and Food. I am also offering daily reflections at the Sanctuary of Women blog, where this week we’re traveling in the company of the women of Holy Week and Easter.

[To use the “Holy Thursday II” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Lent 2: Born of Water, Born of Spirit

March 17, 2011

Born of Water, Born of Spirit © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 2 (March 20): John 3.1-17

Very sorry to be posting late in the week. I am easily distracted by shiny objects, and one came in the form of an enticing project that consumed the first part of my week. More on that in another post. Amidst it all, I have had Nicodemus and his nighttime visit with Jesus much on my mind.

We are just barely into Lent, a season suffused with wilderness and desert. Yet with its imagery of water and of Spirit, this Sunday’s Gospel lection brings us a welcome reminder that God provides sustenance to us in every season.

This text from John’s Gospel invites us to eavesdrop on the visit that Nicodemus pays to Jesus shortly after Jesus clears out the temple. The fact that Jesus and Nicodemus have their conversation at night seems fitting not just because the darkness offers a measure of protection and secrecy for Nicodemus, away from the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, but because Jesus speaks here of a mystery. In response to the question that Nicodemus asks about being born anew, Jesus does not really provide a clear explanation. Yet in his words about water and Spirit, about birthing and love, Jesus offers something better than an explanation: he extends to Nicodemus, and to us, an invitation to a relationship and to a journey of transformation.

I have contemplated this nighttime passage a couple of times previously, at Lent 2: In Which We Get Goosed and Lent 4: The Serpent in the Text, and invite you to visit those reflections. I don’t have many new words to say about this text, but I did get into the studio this week to create a collage and was glad for the ways the text drew me in some new directions into the story and into my art.

I want also to wish you a blessed Saint Patrick’s Day! I have written previously about this beloved saint at Feast of Saint Patrick and invite you to stop by and especially to click on the audio player near the end of that reflection; “Patrick on the Water” is a marvelous song that my husband, Garrison Doles, wrote for a Wellspring service that we did in celebration of St. Patrick.

Speaking of Garrison, his most recent CD also includes a song inspired by this week’s Gospel. Click the player below to hear “O Nicodemus” from his CD House of Prayer:

This week offers many reminders of God’s provision and love. And so, by water and Spirit born and blessed, may you be a living sign of that love, and a blessing to those whose path you cross.

[To use the “Born of Water, Born of Spirit” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Resources for the season: Looking toward Lent

And blogging daily at Sanctuary of Women during Lent…

The Shape He Makes

August 29, 2010

The Shape He Makes © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Proper 18/Ordinary 23/Pentecost +15, Year C (September 5): Luke 14.25-33

And so we come to one of the most wrenching and challenging passages that Jesus will ever utter. It’s as if he’s been saving up hard things to say, and now, with what Luke describes as “large crowds” traveling with him, Jesus takes this opportunity to lay these hard things on the masses. He speaks of what is necessary to lay aside in order to follow him: he tells of hating one’s closest family members, of hating life itself, of carrying the cross, of giving up all our possessions.

One might well think he’s looking to thin out those crowds that are following him.

It’s tempting to want to tone Jesus down here, to ratchet him back a bit, or to try to explain away the harshness of his words. But the Greek word that’s translated as “hate” really does mean hate. Miseo is the Greek root; it can also be translated as to pursue with hatred or detest. It’s the same word that Jesus used earlier in Luke, when he said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man” (Lk. 6.22).

In commentaries on this passage, the word hyperbole comes up; Jesus is being excessive, the commentators say, in order to make his point. It’s true that it does help to read this passage alongside its parallel in Matthew 10.34-39, a passage that is no less difficult—it’s the one where Jesus talks about bringing not peace but a sword and about setting family members against one another—but Matthew does frame Jesus’ words a bit differently than does Luke. In the Matthew parallel, Jesus speaks not of loving him instead of loving our family members but rather of not loving him less than we love them.

I don’t find myself particularly interested in trying to explain Jesus away, disturbing and wrenching though his words about family and cross and possessions may be. But I can tell you a few of the things that I found myself thinking about during the many hours that I sat at my drafting table this week, pushing pieces of painted papers around while I—a woman deeply entwined with family and other treasures of this life—struggled with this passage.

I thought of how Jesus involved himself with such intentionality in the lives of those around him: how he knew real human friendship—think of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, for instance, whose hospitality and companionship he enjoyed. I thought of how, in his agony on the cross, one of his last actions was to give his mother and the beloved disciple into one another’s care: “Woman,” he says to the one who bore him and raised him and who, as Simeon had promised so long ago, now felt the full force of a sword piercing her heart, “here is your son.” And to the beloved disciple standing beside her, Jesus says, “Here is your mother.”

Sitting at the drafting table, working with the pieces, I thought of the stunning pages from the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels, those remarkable books created in the early centuries of Christianity in the British Isles. In particular I thought of the carpet pages, where all manner of creatures and symbols interlace and intertwine and entangle themselves with one another in configurations from which it would be impossible to extricate them. Always, the cross lies at the heart of these intricate pages: the entwining and entanglement serve to reveal the cross in both its simplicity and its complexity.

I can tell you that I thought of one of the books I’m reading right now, Strangers to the City, a reflection on the Rule of Saint Benedict by the splendid Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk who writes with such engagement about what he calls the “creative monotony” of the monastic life. Small wonder, perhaps, that I should be reading his chapter titled “Dispossession” while wrestling with Jesus’ words about attachments. Casey writes about how the poverty to which Christ calls us is rooted in poverty of spirit, and that this is intimately linked with humility—that lesson that Jesus had for us in last week’s gospel lection. Casey writes of how, without this humility in which we acknowledge our absolute dependence upon God, our practices of dispossession—of giving away what hinders us from God—can become a source of pride, which becomes its own obstacle to seeking God.

I thought of my friend Dee Dee Risher, who wrote an article years ago in the lovely, much-missed magazine The Other Side, about her journey to do what Jesus speaks of in this passage: to give away what clutters her path to God. In the article, titled “A Spirituality of Contentment,” Dee Dee told of occasions when she felt self-righteous for her chosen self-deprivations, realizing later that the smugness she felt in simplifying her life masked a deeper discontent. She began to recognize, as she puts it, that “my external changes had far outpaced my internal transformation.” And she began to give prayerful thought to the deeper practices that God was inviting her toward—practices that included honoring her home as a place of hospitality for her own soul, and for God as well.

As the collage finally began to take shape, I thought of what I have allowed to enter my life: the people, the places, the possessions. I thought of all that I am entangled with, the intertwinings and interlacings that mark my life. I am unwilling to hate the people I hold precious; I am reluctant to let go completely of the loveliness that God offers to us in the tangible things of this world. I think of the furniture my grandfather made for me by hand, the painting my friend Phyllis gave Gary and me for our wedding, the books that feed my soul and mind, the soft bed I share with my beloved. Yet I take Jesus’ words to heart, his fierce call to follow him and love him with a whole and undivided heart. And so I carry some questions with me. These entanglements that twist through my life with a complexity that sometimes rivals a page from one of those luminous Gospel-books: like one of those books, do they reveal the shape of a cross imprinted upon my life? All that I let enter, all that I choose, all that I allow to pierce me: does it create a pattern of life that takes on the same configuration as the Christ who gave himself with such abandon to those whom he loved?

The cruciform life—a life that seeks to follow the Christ whose path intersected so completely with our own—is not one that can be imposed upon us. It is a mystery that we can enter into only by choice, and that we must navigate with a spirit of discernment. Carrying the cross is not about casting about for a heavy burden to pick up; neither does it require us to seek out situations of pain and danger that will cause damage to the person God calls us to be. It’s about seeking the pattern of life that will open us the most fully to the God who created us in our particularity. The shape the cross takes for me—artist, writer, minister, wife, and in all my other particularities and peculiarities—will be different than it takes for you. The things I need to let go of, to choose against, to turn away from in order to make a space for Christ at the center of my life may well be different than what you need to let go of. And what I need to allow in, to reshape me, to pierce me—-as Mary chose, as Jesus himself chose—will be particular to my own life as well. I think again of the carpet pages in those ancient Celtic Gospel-books, how they are remarkable in their differences, each one revealing the cross in the stunning distinctiveness and intricacy of its particular pattern.

The Gospel lection this week doesn’t leave me with a lot of coherence; what I have are these questions, these pieces that showed up at the drafting table. How do these pieces of the gospel lection sit with you this week? What are you allowing into your life right now? The people and possessions and habits that twine through your days: What shape do they make of your life? Amid the complexities of your living, what configuration will make space for Christ to be the center, the source that creates something whole from the pieces? Are there pieces you need to release, to turn away from? Are there pieces you need to invite in?

May Christ bless your path—and be your path—in the days to come.

[To use the image “The Shape He Makes,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Related artwork: Finding the Focus.

Celebrations All Around

March 17, 2010

In between wedding preparations (T minus 6 weeks and counting) and writing the final bits of my new book—both celebrations in themselves—I want to take a moment to give a shout out to two of my favorite fellows, whose feast days both fall this week: Saint Patrick (March 17) and Saint Joseph (March 19). To aid in your saintly festivities, here are a few resources.

For my reflection on St. Patrick, visit Feast of Saint Patrick. As an added audio bonus, here’s a wondrous song about St. Patrick by my singer-songwriter sweetheart. It incorporates the ancient prayer of encompassing known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” or “Deer’s Cry.” Click this audio player to hear “Patrick on the Water” (from Gary’s CD House of Prayer).

As I’ve been navigating the journey of making a life not only with my sweetheart but also with his son, I have found a good companion in Joseph, this amazing man who was willing to listen to angels, to rethink his decisions, and to care for the child of the woman whom he loved. Joseph has made a number of appearances in my artwork; I invite you to stop by and see him at The Advent Hours and The Advent and Christmas Series. While you’re visiting, you can listen to yet another wondrous song of Gary’s, this one about Joseph, from his CD The Night of Heaven and Earth. Just click this audio player.

Blessed feast days to you!

Epiphany 5: The Wildest Bounty

January 31, 2010

The Willing Catch © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 5, Year C (Feb. 7): Luke 5.1-11

As I write this, I’m winging my way toward Minnesota, where my sweetheart and I will be leading several events over the next few days. With a few generations of Florida blood running through my veins, I’m questioning the sanity of going to Minnesota at this time of year. (“Are you crazy?” one of my Minnesota friends asked upon hearing I was heading his way). The timing of the trip, however, was determined by the sanctoral calendar: one of the events that Gary and I will be leading is a celebration of St. Brigid, whose feast day is February 1. While the prospect of spending several days in below-freezing temperatures has me wishing that Brigid’s day fell in midsummer, I’m thrilled by the opportunity to celebrate her feast in the company of friends, both longtime ones and those yet to be made.

I have long been intrigued by and devoted to this Irish saint who has been beloved in her homeland and beyond for more than a millennia and a half. Born in the middle of the fifth century, Brigid became a formidable leader who helped to shape the landscape of Irish Christianity when it was still relatively new to the island. She traveled widely in her ministry and established a number of monasteries, the most famous one being the double monastery (comprised of women and men) at Cill Dara (“The Church of the Oak”), now known as Kildare.

Brigid was renowned for her hospitality and generosity. In her biography of the saint, Alice Curtayne describes how Brigid found the poor “irresistible” and ministered to them with “a habit of the wildest bounty.” Accounts of Brigid’s life are replete with stories of how, in places of lack, Brigid’s actions help to bring forth abundance, whether of food or drink or healing or justice. In these accounts, Brigid is a worker of wonders; her miracles echo the miracles of Christ and draw upon the same power by which he provided for those in need. She reminds us of the ways that God is so often profligate toward us: how God, out of sheer, inexplicable delight and love for us, provides for us in ways that have the power to stun us.

Though she was known for not turning anyone away (“Every guest is Christ,” Brigid said), Brigid nonetheless brought a spirit of discernment to her generosity: she knew that miracles don’t always look like we expect them to look, and they often require something of us beyond what we had anticipated. The Irish Life of St. Brigid relates that one day, a man with leprosy approaches St. Brigid and says, “For God’s sake, Brigit, give me a cow.” With the air of someone who has perhaps been approached by the man a number of times before, Brigid tells him to leave her alone. He persists. Brigid asks him how it would be if they prayed to God for the removal of the man’s leprosy. “No,” he replies, “I get more this way than if I were clean.” Brigid disagrees with his priorities and insists that he “take a blessing and be cleansed.” The man acquiesces, acknowledging that he is in much pain. Upon receiving his cure, the man vows his devotion to Brigid, pledging to be her servant and woodman.

I’m quite enjoying the fact that in the same week that we are celebrating Brigid’s feast, the lectionary gives us this passage from Luke. Put out into the deep water, Jesus says to Simon, and let down your nets for a catch. Simon tells him what Jesus already likely knows: Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets. And what comes up sends Simon to his knees: net-breaking, boat-sinking abundance. In the place where Simon and his fellow fishermen had already been laboring, in the landscape they thought they knew, in the place where they had come up empty: a stunning catch, lavish beyond measure.

Fish weren’t the only catch of the day; Simon and his companions were hooked. Captivated. Called. And that’s what miracles are meant to do: they meet us at our point of need, but they do not leave us there. They call us to move from being recipients to being participants, to share in the ways that God pours out Godself for the life of the community and the healing of the world.

In this week, Luke’s fish tale and the feast of St. Brigid have me wondering, what do I really believe about the ways that God works in this world? Have I grown fixed in my expectations about what God is up to? Do I have eyes to see the surprising ways in which God moves in the midst of situations whose outcome I think I already know? Is there deep water I need to put my net into—beyond what I can see, beyond what I know, beyond my familiar limits—to bring up an abundance that God has in store? What am I willing to leave behind in order to participate in such a miracle and to pass it along to others? What habits of wildest bounty might God be inviting me to practice?

In these coming days, may you participate and pass along the wildest bounty of God. Blessings!

P.S. As Brigid’s feast day approaches, I invite you to visit a reflection I wrote for her feast day last year:

Feast of St. Brigid: A Habit of the Wildest Bounty

This is a doubly festive week: the Feast of the Presentation, also called Candlemas, falls the day after Brigid’s feast. For an earlier reflection on this feast day, please click below:

Feast of the Presentation/Candlemas

[The image “The Willing Catch” is from the reflection Hooked. To use this image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

December 28, 2009

The Hour of Vespers: Flight to Egypt © Jan L. Richardson

With Advent being my busiest season of the entire year, it comes as something of a comfort to me that Christmas is not just a single day: in the rhythm of the liturgical year, Christmas lasts for twelve days. There’s some variation of opinion as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas begin; some say Christmas night, others begin the count on December 26. Regardless, the season of Christmas ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. No matter how you count it, the days of Christmas invite us not to be too hasty in bringing an end to our celebration of the Incarnation. For me, this celebration includes giving my incarnated self some rest and savoring the delights that the season yet offers to us.

The Twelve Days of Christmas include several feast days that help define the season. December 26 was the Feast of St. Stephen (featured in the carol “Good King Wenceslas”), the first Christian to die for bearing witness to the one who had come as Emmanuel, God with us. Yesterday was the feast of St. John. Today, December 28, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents—the male children slaughtered by the soldiers of King Herod, as told in Matthew 2.16-18. (The Eastern Orthodox Church observes this on December 29.) This grim feast day reminds us to acknowledge the shadow side of the Christmas season: amid our celebration of the Christ who came as the light of the world, the presence of evil persists. To truly celebrate the birth of Christ means working against the forces that perpetuate suffering.

The Massacre of the Innocents appears often in medieval artwork, usually in gruesome detail and sometimes in connection with the Flight to Egypt (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ escape from the soldiers). The image above is from my Advent Hours series and depicts an intriguing variation on the story of the Flight to Egypt that incorporates St. Brigid, the famed Irish saint. Many ancient prayers and legends from Celtic lands refer to St. Brigid of Kildare as the foster-mother of Christ and the midwife at his birth. Even for the wonderworking Brigid, this would have been a great feat, as she was born in the fifth century. Yet in a culture in which the bond of fostering was often stronger than the bond of blood, this notion reveals something of the deep esteem that Brigid attracted, and it’s a way of describing how she helped to prepare a way for Christ as the Christian faith took root in Ireland. A particularly lovely legend tells that St. Brigid, upon seeing Herod’s soldiers enter the city to slaughter the young boys, quickly fashioned a wreath of candles. Placing it upon her head, she began to dance, distracting the soldiers and allowing the Holy Family to flee to safety.

On this feast day, Brigid’s legend and the story of the slaughter of the innocents calls me to consider what I’m doing, or need to do, to help protect those who suffer most in our world. As I rest for a bit in this Christmas season, as I linger with what the season continues to offer, how might this be a time of discernment and preparation for the work that lies ahead?

What’s stirring for you as we move through the Christmas season? What might this Twelve-Days-Feast have yet to offer you in the way of both delights and questions for your path ahead?

If you didn’t have occasion to visit The Advent Door during the past weeks, I invite you to stop by there as we move through these lingering days of Christmas. As we journey toward Epiphany, may you find in these days a continued celebration and the sustenance you need to walk in the way of Christ, the Word made flesh. Blessings and peace to you!

[To use this image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

For All the Saints

October 26, 2009

A Gathering of Spirits © Jan L. Richardson

I am coming into the home stretch of my new book, thanks be to God, and am looking forward to finishing up all the final details in time to start blogging on a more regular basis in time for Advent (over at my other blog, The Advent Door). It’s lovely also to be getting ready to celebrate my favorite trinity of days in the whole year—Halloween, the Feast of All Saints, and the Feast of All Souls. For a long while, this trio of days has been a sacred time for me—what the Celtic folk call a “thin place” in the wheel of the year. As we approach the Feast of All Saints in this year that has been particularly intense with laboring on the book, I am especially mindful of and grateful for all the sources of help, encouragement, prayer, and good cheer I have received along the way from sainted folk on both sides of the veil.

As the Feast of All Saints draws near, I invite you to visit the reflection that I wrote last year by clicking here: Feast of All Saints: A Gathering of Spirits.

Also, if you’re working with Mark 12.28-34, the gospel lection for Proper 26B/Ordinary 31B/Pentecost + 22, I invite you to visit the reflection I offered last year for Matthew’s version of this story: Crossing the Country, Thinking of Love.

Many blessings to you in these sacred days.